During Fort Wayne Ancestry Day's Ask the Experts Panel, we received so many questions that we were unable to answer them all during the event. The following is a question asked and The Genealogy Center staff's response.
How would you suggest finding an illegitimate daughter born in 1850? She is not listed in the 1850 census even though she should have been. Her mother’s name was Henrietta but she is listed as “Henry E.” a male. In the 1860 census, Henrietta is now listed as herself and as a female, but the daughter is listed as Carran H., a male, when her name was Kerranhappuch. This was in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, and adjoining counties. Any suggestions?
First, I tried to identify the individuals to whom you were referring. The only Carran H. I could find in Pennsylvania in 1860 was Carran H. Web, female, age 9 (born circa 1851), living in Fulton County. There was a Henrietta Webb on the same page in a different household, but she was only 16. Unless you have other, more reliable sources that indicate that these ages were drastically incorrect, these two individuals could not have been mother and daughter – Henrietta would have been just 7 years old when Carran was born. Also this Carran, if her age on the 1860 census is correct, would not have been born when the 1850 census was taken. But perhaps these are not the people you seek. To answer your question in general terms:
A number of records may exist in the case of illegitimate children. The mother may have gone to court to get financial support for the child. This kind of case may be found in the circuit court records of the county. Types of cases could include breach of promise, bastardy bonds, or others, depending on the location, time period and local laws. Mention of the child’s illegitimate status may appear in a church record, such as the child’s baptism, or in some denominations, in an official chastisement of the mother (or father). The editor of the local newspaper may have felt free to comment on the situation, whether in euphemisms or in plain language. There could be an adoption record if the child was relinquished by the mother, or adopted by a subsequent husband of the mother, although the latter would likely be a more modern occurrence. Records generated by the child later in life may reveal the biological father’s name, if the child was aware of the circumstances of her birth and who her father was. These could include her marriage application, death record or obituary. Study all of the records that can be found for the specific location and time period. This is a tough problem, but don’t give up! Perhaps a manuscript source, such as a family Bible, a diary, or personal letters may give you the answers you seek. Also, have you considered that this child may not have been illegitimate, but an orphan? It may be worth looking at probate records and guardianships to see whether her father and/or mother died young and she was placed with another family.